Mary Kay Howe is a staunch advocate of the country's judicial system.
"I'm proud of our court system and the way it works. It's a very fair system, and I enjoy being a part of that," she said.
Her part—since 1975—has been as a court reporter. She records a court's oral proceedings so that what was said can be read back in court or referenced later. "I've enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the courts, listening to the stories. I think I've heard everything after 43 years, but it seems there's something new every week," she added.
She will take on a different role, however, when the Kansas Supreme Court travels to Lawrence for a special session the evening of April 1.
Howe, who is a court reporter for the 7th Judicial District, will serve as honorary bailiff at the special session. Chief Judge Peggy Carr Kittel selected her for the job. The 7th Judicial District is composed of Douglas County.
Howe is a court reporter for District Judge Sally Pokorny.
“I am the luckiest judge in the world to have Mary Kay as my court reporter," Pokorny said. "Not only is she a stellar court reporter—in that she is fast and accurate—she is a stellar person. She is fun; she is funny; she is dependable. What I love most about her is her kindness and her wisdom.
"I could not have had a better person than Mary Kay to teach me how to be a good judge," Pokorny added. "Her steadiness, her work ethic, and her wisdom symbolize what we all hope our court system stands for.”
As honorary bailiff, Howe will call to order the audience assembled at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas, and then the court will hear oral arguments in two cases.
Because they are appellate cases and not trial court proceedings, the Supreme Court session will be a bit of a learning experience for Howe. It will be for the audience, too—which is the intent. The court began holding special sessions outside the Kansas Judicial Center in 2011 to mark the state's 150th anniversary. It is an opportunity for Kansans to learn more about the court, its work, and the overall role of the Kansas judiciary.
Howe says she also tries to inform others about Kansas courts.
"I spend a lot of time educating people about the court system. They are always surprised at how it really works compared to what they see on TV. I think it's a very fair system and that everyone gets a fair trial," she said.
Most of her days are spent in the courtroom. With eight judges, five court reporters, and a growing caseload, there's plenty of work.
"We're always juggling things to cover," she said of her fellow reporters.
Court reporters typically don't provide written transcripts of proceedings unless they're asked. That can mean working nights and weekends to fulfill those requests, Howe said.
"Right now, I have a two-page list of orders," she explained.
While Howe is eager to share her knowledge about the courts, there isn't much education that needs to take place in her own family. Five women have been or are court reporters: two sisters, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, and a cousin.
Her daughter, Miranda Cummings, is the managing court reporter for the 3rd Judicial District, composed of Shawnee County. A cousin, Deanne Besen, is a court reporter for the 18th Judicial District, composed of Sedgwick County. The others are retired or work as freelance reporters.
Howe said a lawyer in her hometown of Wellington told her father he thought court reporting would be a good job for his daughters. Two of her sisters were the first to do so, and she followed suit. She spent her first year on the job in Wyandotte County District Court and has been working in Douglas County District Court since then.
The job has been a good choice, she said.
"When people ask when I'm going to retire, I say I still love coming to work, and until that changes, I'll keep working," Howe said. "I would miss my incredible work family."
Summaries of the cases to be heard in Lawrence and briefs filed by the attorneys involved are available online by following the Lawrence Special Session link under What’s New on the Kansas judicial branch website at www.kscourts.org. A flyer also contains that information and other important details for people attending or watching online.